(Oh, before we begin today's piece, let me preface it by warning you that it contains the usual compliment of profanity. obnoxious sentiments, occasional backhanded comments, and a lot of "opinion" which some may find utterly offensive. I feel you...but you have been warned and you can go back to lower stakes media like Tik Tok or whatever and get your" rah-rah drivel quotient" there, okay? Scott)
Like every hobbyist, I spend a lot of time dreaming and scheming about new aquarium setups. And one of the beautiful things about this kind of "imagineering" ( to coin a Disney term) is that I can venture into all sorts of areas in the hobby- including ones which I might have relatively little- or even no- experience with. You know, stuff you wouldn't expect from "Mr. Tinted Water Guy", like Mbuna tanks, Stiphodon goby habitats, livebearer tanks ,etc.
The beauty of doing these mental "feasibility studies" is that I can imagine, design, "shop" and scheme without spending a dime, spilling a drop of water, or sourcing the equipment I need to use!
Yet, I get really distracted easily, when it comes to aquarium stuff!
The goal is not to get into a loop of "analysis paralysis" and never make a move simply because I'm "still planning..." Yeah. I've seen guys do that and the tank sits empty and collects dust and cobwebs while they are "contemplating."
You see, like many of you, my imagination, appetite, and enthusiasm are often larger than my ability, time, or means to get the job done. I've concluded that to do all of my crazy concept tanks, I'd probably need like 17 aquariums of all shapes and sizes, many with technologies and components that would carry a breathtaking price tag- if they exist at all...
And, this is AFTER I've eliminated some of the early front runners, like the intertidal Pipefish Mangrove tank, the Amazonian waterfall tank, the monospecific Acropora microcaldos tank, the "Nothobranchius Temporal Pool" concept tank (ask me about the "mud hole" idea I've been playing with sometime), and others that are earmarked for some "indefinite future date...."
So, I kind of have this personal thought about "ideas."
Okay, that sounded a bit harsh. Let me clarify a bt.
I mean, if you're not going to do anything with them, they're sort of just "nice things" to have- maybe inspiring-but you need to act on them or they are just...theoretical, right?
I don't want to keep "theoretical" tanks.
And, I realize that there are limitations that we all have- Space, time, money, etc.- and that these temper many of ideas from being executed. I suppose that is part of the reason why I've changed my thinking about so-called "nano"-sized tanks over the past few years. Because their smaller size and ease of use helps you rapidly iterate from idea to completed system quickly and easily! I've had a lot of fun with them lately.
One of the best things about my business is getting to help fuel the dreams of other hobbyists. It gives me great pleasure to see you guys enjoying the hobby, and motivates me to do more.
And of course, when it comes time to do my own tank, I have to weed through all of these crazy ideas- some of which challenge me in ways I hadn't even considered. Some are just fun to play with.
Others launch me and Tannin into entirely new directions- those are the best ideas!
Okay, so maybe not ALL ideas are worthless.
What are some of my personal tank ideas that are going through my mind lately?
Well, here are a few:
An "old fashioned" Guppy Aquairum
Yeah, seriously. Lately, I am having this flashback to my childhood, when I spent hours and hours looking at my dad's guppy tanks (he was really into 'em). I'm sort of obsessed with the whole idea of clear water, "number 3 grade" aquairum gravel, and water sprite. Oh, and some cool guppies...Likely a mix of strains and color varieties that would cause any serious guppy breeder to run screaming into the night!
I have no idea why I'm longing for this. No "wild Guppy biotope" bullshit...No "high concept Guppy Tank" crap...Just a simple tank filled with a jungle of Water Sprite, a couple of pieces of petrified wood, gravel, and guppies. Total throwback tank! Maybe a modern twist would be to include some planted aquarium substrate underneath the essentially sterile gravel, but that's it.
Yeah, clear water, crisp white 7000k LED light, and all! I love the idea. Although I admittedly pause and wonder how long I could enjoy this tank before I'd become bored with it?
Wild Livebearer Aquairum
Okay, this is sort of sounding closer to the type of thing you might expect from me. Perhaps a tank set up to replicate some of the South American habitats in which you'd find wild livebearers...Maybe a mixed bed substrate, with sand, silt, and some gravel-sized materials, a few small stones, and perhaps some plants like Sagittariusaor whatever. Not an exact biotope (F that!)- but more of my "biotope inspired" approach.
What livebearers? Well, Maybe Swordtails or perhaps Endless (although I've done an Endler's tank recently and it got boring after a while...). What about OG black Mollies, a little bit of salt ( I am a reefer, for goodness sakes), and a few tolerant plants? I dunno. That could be cool for a while, I suppose.
Maybe even something more unusual, like Poecilia picta, or some sort of other less common ones, like the "Tiger Teddy" (Neoheterandria elegant) ; yeah, WTF kind of common name is THAT? Though it's tiny and can tolerate soft water better than most livebearers! Or maybe, the "Porthole Livebearer" (Pocilopsus gracious)- about as dull-looking a fish as you can imagine (part of its appeal to me!)?
Mbuna..Just because they're colorful and live around rocks
Yeah, okay. This idea has been floating around in my head for a long time. We're not talking about "Shellies" (shell dwelling cichlids from the rift lake down the road, so to speak)- even though I'm obsessed with their habitat and all, the fish themselves are pretty boring looking, if you ask me. Faint grey stripes on a silver fish in a tank with white sand, grey rocks, and tan shells is too monochromatic even for me.
So yeah, smaller Malawi species like Pseudotropheus saulosi, Pseudotropheus sp. "acei", and the much-loved Labidochromis caeruleus would be nice. I'm thinking a group of a few males of each, to get maximum color and minimal aggression. Maybe like 4 or 5 male specimens of those three species in a 50 gallon tank.
Crowded but not "overly crowded?"
I'd just water change the shit out of it every week, and employ some reef gear (like AI Nero or EcoMarine Vortech electronic pumps) for water movement? We have naturally hard, alkaline water here in Los Angeles, so keeping a high pH would be a snap! I've had friends do this type of tank, and it was gorgeous. Really colorful fishes over a background of aragonite sand and grayish rocks.
Yeah, I can get behind THIS idea!
Marine Macroalgae tank with Mandarin Dragonets and Pipefishes?
Oh, I've loved that idea for decades...Did it in 2005 and loved it. Played with it again in 2021. Spoke about Macroalage and Seagrasses at MACNA way back in 2009... Was probably a bit too early. Unfortunately, the idea of sterile-looking, "high concept macrolagae tanks" (a la Nature Aquairum "style" b.s.) is becoming "trendy" in that vomit-inducing way that I hate...so Fuck this idea for a while, lol. I think I'll wait to play with this idea again until after people start ignoring these kinds of tanks again.
I know, my attitude sucks. It's just that I hate doing stuff and sharing it and then having people tell me, "Oh, did you see ________ tanks on Instagram? They're so incredible!" (You know, the drivel-esque, polar opposite interpretation of what I'd do) "You should try one like HIM!" (at which time I most definitely want to vomit. What, my rather eco diverse, natural-looking version isn't any good? LOL
Regardless, I still have a long-running healthy obsession with seagrasses and macroalage. I love the calcareous macroalage, Halimeda; perhaps the least "trendy" of the macroalage in this new dumbed-down "high concept artistic macroalage tank renaissance" which we find ourselves in.
Maybe it's time to do another off-trend tank to piss off everyone? Yeah, maybe. I know that a few fellow old crusty, treacherous reefers like me might appreciate me dropping a tank like that to shit on this "scene" before it gets to be too awful. to tolerate
God, I've become a complete asshole in recent years!
Oh, and since I'm at it: If you ever put your nano tank on a little turntable, please don't ever talk to me again. That's the freaking stupidest thing I've EVER seen in aquaruum keeping, hands down.
Oh, there IS a guy doing it right in the macrolagae space . A guy in Japan who goes by the handle "-ichistarium". His work is amazing. Oh, and our friends inland_reef and afishionado are positively crushing it with their own natural interpretations of macroalage/mangrove habitats. Check them out and give them the love they deserve!
Okay, deep breath....
Not sure what it is...maybe it's the reefer in me again... I have a big desire to do a tank with just rocks. No plants, wood, leaves. Nada. Just rock. What's the reason for this newfound fascination for rocks? Like, perhaps it's the angst built up in me after 18 years of playing with just leaves and twigs and botanicals and sediments that makes the idea of a tank with just rocks fascinating to me again.
And what kinds of fishes would I put in a "rock tank?"
Well, sure, Mbuna for one. But there are other fishes, like gobies, Danios, perhaps some loaches and barbs? For that matter, Swordtails or some kind of Geophagus or Central American cichlids? A tank meant to replicate some version of a rocky pool, stream, or even river could be super cool, and just different for me. Maybe I could toss a few token branches in there? Maybe not.
Yeah, Ditched selling rocks here back in 2020, citing the (fact) that rocks are generally not associated with the types of habitats that we play with here. Their reality, however, is that when I started Tannin. in 2015, I wanted to embrace "natural aquariums", and that concept can embrace multiple genres and multiple materials...including rocks, right?
I've been talking about this idea for years. A tank created to replicate the wild habitat of the Zebra Danio. Yes, the humble fish of my childhood. Yet, one which I feel gets no respect. Now, I'll be the first to admit that dedicating an entire aquarium to this little fish is a bit "different", right? Yet, there is something about the idea that find super compelling nonetheless. a conventional square or rectangle-shaped tank is not what would really work here. Rather, I feel that a long, low aquarium would be best. To really help facilitate their swimming and their activities, such a tank would really work well.
Yet, could I devote and entire 50 gallon tank just to them? I'll be honest, I'm not sure. it might be a bit of a challenge mentally, lol. Part of the charm of this fish is its fast swimming and schooling behavior, and to facilitate that, a long, shallow tank would be best, IMHO. Can you imagine a 4 or 5 foot long, 16" (40 cm) high tank for these fishes? Maybe nice and wide. Yeah! A bottom of mixed sediments and gravels, some smooth stones, perhaps some Rice plants or Acorus..perhaps a scattering of random leaves and twigs..That would be a simple and cool display.
A substrate-only display?
Imagine a tank which has absolutely no rock, no plants, or no driftwood. Just a bunch of sand or other substrate. Perhaps an interesting, mixed-grade substrate...but only substrate nonetheless! I've done leaf litter only, botanicals-only, and twigs-only substrates before...but only sand or other substrate materials? Not yet.
Talk about "negative space!" This would require a very focused, mentally-shifted (or "twisted"), highly dedicated aquarist to pull it off. I mean, we're talking about the only "relief" in the tank would come from the fishes themselves. The key would be coming up with an interesting mix of materials and grades and colors to really make it work. Oh, and a more shallow, longer tank again, IMHO.
What kinds of fishes would you keep?
Well, I would imagine that you could keep bottom-dwelling fishes like Corydoras, or gobies and bennies...perhaps even Eels and loaches. I suppose some schooling fishes would work, too> Would you go with relatively dull, monochromatic ones, or super colorful ones? I wonder how the fishes would react to being "out in the open" all the time. Would this be "cruel?" Would it result in a more "protective" swimming behavior like tight shoaling?
Or, would this facilitate natural behaviors among fishes which swim in open waters. I wonder, though, are there fishes which preferentially inhabit open water areas over vast stretches sand? There must be, right? If so, they're likely fishes that are either really fast swimmers, or predators, I would suppose.
Or, am I simply overthinking this? I mean, it's essentially like a bare bottom breeding tank; an idea that's been used in the trade for decades. It's just that this is a permanent, allegedly decorative setup, right?
The fishes would absolutely be the focus here.
And there are those geographic replications, too.
When I contemplate "turning east" to Africa, I get pretty damn excited at the possibilities. Of course, The blackwater habitats and fishes of Southeast Asia beckon. However, with the setups I've done with brackish, I'm already "riffing" on those locales.
And so part of my mindset tells me, "Well, dude, you're sort of already there...just stick to your South American thing...You love it. It's you..."
...And then my mind flashes to Kribs. The first cichlid I ever bred..when I was like 13! In a 2.5 gallon tank, no less!
Never forgot that...
And of course, the African characins...
...and the idea of killies in a community-type setting dances through my mind.
And those Ctenopoma. Always the Ctenopoma...
And yet, the lure of the Amazon is almost too great to resist. Like, it's just the freshwater region I identify with the most. Everything about it.
It just "works" for me, I guess..
We need to act on our crazy (and not-so crazy) ideas whenever we can. Because it's hard to allow one of your ideas to shrivel up and die without ever being executed because you were afraid of criticism.
For those of you taking on your new ideas, and pushing out into new territories- new frontiers:
Move forward. Bravely.
Take comfort in the fact that you are trying. Take comfort in the fact that your work may inspire others...and in it's own little way, perhaps change the aquarium hobby.
You're not foolish.
And your ideas aren't, either.
Everything we do helps advance the state of the art in the aquarium hobby. Each new tank- no matter how awesome we or the world think it is-gives us experience, ideas, and inspiration to do other tanks that perhaps bring us closer to the idea that we had in mind. And it can influence other hobbyists to do the same.
I can't tell you how many times I've done a "thing" or "things" which were based on some idea, some inspiration, or some thought that I had about how to execute an aquarium, which may not have gotten me "there" right from the start, but taught me all sorts of things along the way too ultimately arriving where I wanted to be.
It often starts with a concept..an idea.
...Until it gradually emerges into a more "polished" configuration.
Now, often an idea will start based on something we see in Nature. Perhaps an element of a habitat that we like. Perhaps, it will dovetail with some sort of hypothesis we have, and lead to other executions to prove out the concept.
Often, it's simply a way to see if we can work out a concept. A way to push things forward.
One of the things I enjoy most about Tannin- is to look at things the way they are in the hobby-the way they've been practiced for generations- and to question WHY.
Not for the sake of being an arrogant jerk- but in the spirit of questioning why we do stuff the way we do. Is it because it's the BEST way? Or is it because that's what worked well with the prevailing skill set/knowledge/equipment available at the time the idea was presented to the hobby, and we've just accepted it as "the way" ever since, even though all of the "back story" which lead to this unwavering acceptance of the practice has long since changed?
A practice or idea that may have been appropriate and optimum 30 years ago may be woefully outdated now. I mean, it still "works", but there are better ways now...
Accepting ideas, practices, and techniques in the hobby "...just because we've done it that way forever" is, in my opinion, a way to stagnate.
And in all fairness, an admonition to change things "just because" is equally as detrimental. Rather, it's better to simply look honestly and boldly at how/why we do something, and ask ourselves, "Is this really the best way? Is it really necessary?"
Is it a practice we should keep embracing?
Or is it time to "rewrite the code?"
I think so.
Simple thought. Powerful implications.
Every observation we make on all sorts of these aspects of the botanical-method aquarium s helps us move the needle a bit. With a growing number of hobbyists experimenting with botanical materials in all sorts of aquariums and enjoying improving fish health, spawning, etc., it's getting more and more difficult to call it a "novelty" or "fad."
I mean, Nature isn't exactly a "fad" or trend-follower, right? She's been doing this stuff for eons. We're just sort of "catching up"- and beginning to study, contemplate, and appreciate what happens when form meets function in the aquarium.
And that's pretty exciting, isn't it?
Stay engaged. Stay curious. Stay dedicated. Stay observant. Stay open-minded...
And Stay Wet.